“And if the blood/ on your hands grows too dark,/ think of the bright pail of milk, its froth,/ how you made something good/ long after the calf had grown/ cold”
-Susannah Nevison, “Pastoral”
As good a name as any other, how veal blossoms into brisket, kid to cutlet. A span drawn on the tongue from referent to tortile intent, a curtain always tugging back. As a life becomes more familiar, empathy begs its title be expelled far from center palate, diplomatic and foreign like something being done in the distance: unrecognizable, a perfect, perpetual tense free of blame. As though it was inevitable, some will have been running, hurting, eating, dying, no stretch of time before or after to contradict. If they can, they’ll have you believe in separation. In the difference between one sound and another, the metal truth penning like rail spikes or wire both sides of a line. Us and not us. Silence, then a mouth moves. The world starts to take shape around it.
Couched by the window, washed in the unmistakable distant timbre of train on track, marching snares dressed forward. A whistle pleads with distance to be close, to be present as thunder. Hear the blare of horn, five-alarming, barn-razing, pressed against silence like someone’s asleep on the rails and needs to flee. Breaths languor out, crossties braced for interstice. The sound grows less patient. Night allows, moment by moment, the padded, waning anticipation to stay in bloom. Come into this swanlight siren auric luster of apartment lantern wraithing through our dusty. Through our quiet.
I never meant to plant this taste for capsules or tablets, for how I’ll rub a bloodstain into linen when I know I should blot. Hairshirt of watered coffee and sweating rooms, the smell of vague vinegar and hardwater germinating like a sunburn out of season. I try to think of icing these joints as a gift, the craft of an athlete or prospector weighing muscle like ore, adversarial to the veins and all the time they take to fill. How many times now I’ve drifted across bridges or dehydrated highways, not to taste a cure but something slimmer, more skeletal, around which I could frame a life. Always the season of reaped seeds I would never plant, sprouting buds like wild thyme as if I were a garden to be covered. A body at unrest, topography in relief. I rake my bonsai sand tight to the roots and filter this water in hopes fickle bark chooses to be kind.
Jeremy Rock is pursuing an MFA at the University of Alabama. He has work published or forthcoming in Poet Lore, The Shore, Bear Review, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere.